History of the Farm

The Age of the Farm House:

The Farmhouse at Boggy Creek Farm is one of the two oldest still-existing homes in Austin. Since the beginning of our stewardship of the farm in 1992, we have done a lot of research, but the exact building date or the builder’s name eluded us.

We did find a significant hint, in court papers, when James Smith’s son Alfred Smith argued for a larger share of his father’s estate. He testified that he deserved a greater inheritance, because, in addition to farm duties, he also “supervised the building of his father’s house over the winter of 1840-1841.” Thus the farm house existed in the same era as the French Legation, a house of very similar design (Greek Revival) and also in East Austin.

The firm evidence of the general date of the farm house was discovered in the spring of 2011, when Susan (Siegmund) Sherrill Estes, a very able genealogist, and descendant of the Siegman Family who owned the farm from 1902 to 1979, discovered in the Letters of Sam Houston (Commander of the Texas forces at the Battle of San Jacinto, 1836, and first [elected] President of the Republic of Texas) that the President attended a wedding party celebrating the wedding of James Smith’s son, Alfred Smith, to Nancy Ann Mills, at the home of Alfred’s parents, December 24, 1841.

 

In a letter to his wife Margaret, Houston related that the bridegroom was “a genteel man and well to do,” and his bride lovely and resembling Margaret! He also pronounced the “eating doings” as “first rate throughout”…..We’re glad to now have confirmation, from the President of the Republic of Texas, that the farm house existed in 1841, and that food has always been important here. (See last footnote in “Sources” below for a link to the Correspondence of Sam Houston.)

The Pioneers Settle in Texas:

James Smith had visited Central Texas in 1832, to secure land grants from the Mexican government. He was successful. Subsequently, he and his wife, Elizabeth Hayden Smith, moved from North Carolina, to the area in February, 1838, according to a letter written in February, 1858 by their son, John Franklin Smith. They were accompanied by their children and nineteen African slaves.

 

At that time the Colorado River Valley, east of Austin (then known as Waterloo), was covered with prairie grass and dotted by a few very large live oak trees, such as the one still shading the farm house today. “Buffalo grazed; the roar of panthers and the war whoops of the Indians was heard around.” (Letter from John Franklin Smith to his cousin, Justina Rowzee, The John Scott Pickle Papers, Barker History Center.) First living in a cabin in Bastrop County, just east of Austin, the family acquired the 50 acre homestead on Boggy Creek in 1839.  They purchased four agricultural outlots in the bottom lands east of Austin at a public auction held in Republic Square, under the live oak trees, in the new City of Austin. The family home, built over the winter of 1840/41 by the Smiths and their slaves, was surrounded by a “picket fence” with portholes for defense, as described by John. When John was about 7 years old, he and his father narrowly escaped attack by Indians as they returned home from the village of Austin, 2- 1/2 miles upstream on the Colorado River. John remembered being so scared that his “hairs stood on end.”

 

In the 1840’s, the village of Austin was a poor assortment of log cabins and simple plank houses. The Smiths were a family of means (worth $40,000 in 1845, court appraisal, after J. Smith’s death) and did much of their shopping in nearby Bastrop (a finer town than Austin), where they owned two pieces of property, including a house. The family owned hundreds of acres of farm land. James Smith was also active as a developer and was a partner in planning the town of Montopolis, which the partners hoped would overtake Austin in importance.

 

The Smiths raised many crops and operated a grist mill on the Colorado River. “There was diversification even then (1840); James Smith and the Hancock family, east of Austin, were growing wheat successfully…By 1843, the 30 acres of wheat at Smith’s farm were yielding over 25 bushels to the acre.” (History of Travis County and Austin, 1839-1899 by Mary Starr Barkley, p.257).

 

James and Elizabeth had three daughters, Mary Elizabeth Smith, Caroline Amelia Smith, and Susan Antoinette Smith, and a son, John Franklin Smith. James also had two sons by a previous marriage, Alfred Smith and James W. Smith. Alfred was a grown man by the time the family moved to Texas and lived in his own residence. Aside from farming, he supplemented his living by bringing back and reselling livestock from Mexico.

 

Mr. Smith met an untimely death at the hands of a “villainous overseer”: “We learn that a fatal difficulty took place between Mr. James Smith, near Austin, and a young Mr. Baker, in which the former received the contents of a pistol of which he died on Saturday night last.” (January 25, 1845). (Northern Standard, Clarksville). He was attended, in the 40 hours before death, by his doctor, Joseph Robertson, who later bought the French Legation house and 21 acres formerly owned by the French Ambassador to the Republic of Texas, Alphonse Dubois de Saligny. Dr. Robertson also attended the birth of Elizabeth’s last child, Susan, who was born in August, 8 months after her father’s death (The charge for this delivery was $25.) James Smith left a deathbed will, witnessed by Aaron Burleson, C.L. Wing and James H. Matthews. His coffin was built by Abner Cook, a carpenter who arrived in Austin in 1839. It is very possible that Cook participated in the building of the farm house, as he was a fan of Greek Revival houses. Cook later became the architect and builder of the Governor’s Mansion, the Neil Cochran and Governor Pease Mansions, and other 1850’s era Greek Revival homes.

 

The widow Smith alternately lived at the farm and in a house she owned in Austin (which apparently was the house earlier occupied by Alphonse Dubois de Saligny while the French Legation house was being built) and later to a new house situated just west of Congress along Pecan Street (West 6th Street). She also owned a city block (no. 119) just southeast of the present Capitol.

 

Soon after Mr. Smith’s death, a lawsuit developed between Mrs. Smith and stepson Alfred over division of the family property. In his oral deathbed will, James gave Alfred 400 acres of land. Elizabeth claimed that he had no right to give so much of the total worth of the estate to Alfred, as she had brought more wealth to the marriage than had James, and there were 5 other children involved. Many records citing their differences survive in the Travis County Archives. Estate sales took place at the Farm and many famous old Austin names may be found on the inventory/sales lists (including Abner Cook, and Martin Moore, who owned a grocery downtown and farmstead located on Sinclair Avenue at 49th.) Despite a challenging lawsuit filed in 1854 by second stepson James W. Smith (claiming he’d also received less than a fair share of the properties), Elizabeth retained ownership of the homestead until she willed it to daughter Mary Elizabeth Smith Matthews in 1874. She died that year in her home on West 6th. Various of the children had farmed the place during the 30 years after James’ death. Mary Elizabeth’s son Eric Matthews inherited it on July 18, 1885. From that point ownership went thusly:

 

Eric almost immediately (he already had a farm in Lampasas, TX) sold it to William M. Saunders, December 22, 1885, who on September 13, 1887 sold it to James H. Spence, who was a farmer and land agent with an office at 120 W. 6th. James Spence and his wife Mary M. Spence, on December 16, 1902, sold the property to Herman T. Siegmund. The Farm remained in the Siegmund Family (who either farmed it or rented it to other farmers), until daughter Bertha Siegmund Linscomb sold it September 19, 1979. The property had gradually been subdivided and now consisted of only 5 acres. Don and Jeannie Wiginton, the new purchasers, owned the property until 1991. We (Larry and Carol Ann) bought the place September 25, 1992 and continue the restoration and stewardship. We named the Farm, Boggy Creek Farm, in honor of the no-longer meandering creek that lies, forever encased in cement, behind the houses across Lyons Road. As a confirmation of the name choice, when we took the concrete lid off of the 150-year old hand-dug well, we discovered, etched in script on the lid: “Boggy Creek”.

Built over the Winter of 1840/1841:

Whereas most houses in and around 1830’s-1840’s Austin were either log cabins or simple plank dogtrot structures, the Boggy Creek Farmhouse is a Greek Revival design, with identical rooms flanking a central hallway.

Its floor plan is similar to that of the French Legation, also one of the oldest existing houses in Austin (thought to have been built 1841). Both are essentially an enclosed dogtrot style. The two front rooms of the Boggy Creek Farmhouse, the parlor and the owners’ bedroom, are large, measuring about 16′ square. The two back rooms (children’s bedrooms) are smaller. Each room has a fireplace, three with the original mantles intact. The fourth lost its mantle to a cooking stove fire, likely in the 1930’s. (After the Tornado of 2001, which dumped a huge pecan tree next to the house, damaging it severely, Larry milled a new fireplace mantle out of the Tornado Pecan wood, in a similar style to the original.) The bricks forming the fireboxes and chimneys are Austin Common. The fireboxes are shallow, a design popular in the late 18th and early 19th centuries (designed by Count Rumford.) They throw heat efficiently into the room and draw the smoke extremely well; no evidence of sooty or burned spots are found on the mantles. There are two chimneys to serve the four fireplaces with duplex flues in each.

 

 

Left, the Living Room’s Tornado Pecan (children’s bedroom) fire place;

Right, the “Pioneer Room” (children’s bedroom) fire place.

There are no closets in the house. The original Bastrop loblolly pine floor exists under a narrow pine floor installed in the 1930’s (by the Siegmunds). Walls and ceilings in the house were originally lath and plaster (except for tongue and groove boards in the current kitchen and one original children’s bedroom.) When wall paper became popular, the lath and plaster was exchanged for shiplap boarding, cheesecloth and wallpaper. There are no original light fixtures and most of the 7′ x 3′ cypress, pegged, four-panel doors were stolen during a period when the house was vacant. Two original exterior doors on the back of the house survived the theft.

 

The original kitchen, Texas style, was in a separate building probably near the white shed behind the house, but it later occupied 3 different rooms in the house. The first indoor kitchen was located in the east children’s room, which was closest to the well on the east side of the house. The wood-fired stove, flued through the chimney, at some point caught the mantle and floor on fire. The kitchen was relocated to the west children’s room, with the wood cook stove again flued through the chimney. When the City of Austin extended water and gas lines out to the area, probably in the 1930’s, the kitchen wood stove was retired, sparing any potential damage to the fireplace there. The 3rd and current indoor location of the kitchen is the back part of the central hall area (which may have been the dining room, originally — where President Sam Houston dined.)

The exterior of the house is either Bastrop pine or cypress siding, fastened with square nails. All of the windows are original, with some “wavy” glass, except the master bedroom windows, which were installed as part of the renovation in the late 1930’s. At that time the windows on the two front rooms were moved side by side, eliminating the shutter space between them. We hope to restore them to their original position and also reconstruct the originally larger front porch. The roof is pitched up to a flat area between the two chimneys.

 

Old outbuildings on the property include a garage, probably built in the early 1900’s. A former resident remembers Grandfather Siegmund’s Model T car parked between hay bales in the garage. The garage is now used for Larry's Lumberyard & for storage. Behind the house is an old shed, which is now the laundry room. When we dug a water line out to the field, we uncovered, at a depth of 14 to18 inches, kitchen garbage such as chicken and round steak bones, pottery, and silverware, all in disrepair, very near this simple plank shed. This may have been the site of the original outdoor kitchen. We are told by the Siegmund family that two outhouses were located a little ways beyond this shed. (Thankfully, former families have installed bathrooms in corners of two of the rooms in the house.) Speaking of digging, it seems that every time we dig anywhere, we uncover “artifacts,” ranging from pottery fragments (identified as from the 1840’s) to horseshoes and shutter hinges. 

History of the Farmhouse

And finally the old place is happy again

Special Tribute: The Farmhouse stands as a physical testament to the labors of the African slaves who undoubtedly labored in its construction, and who worked the fields of this antebellum plantation. This page is dedicated to them.

Various restorations of the house:

First photo shows the farm house in 1992 when we fell in love with it.The looming tree on the side of the house is, ominously, the giant pecan tree (see the second photo for its fate.) Second photo shows the work needed to fix the house after the pecan tree crashed into the bedroom during the Tornado of November 2001. Larry created the missing fireplace mantle out of part of this pecan tree. Third photo shows the work needed, in addition to new porch foundations, etc., in 2012. A house made of wood always needs some kind of tender care. We are more than willing to take care of this old place.

Sources: 

*Probate No. 78, Travis County Archives, Travis County  Courthouse.

*John Scott Pickle Papers, Barker History Center, University of Texas Campus.

*Northern Standard, Clarksville, Austin History Center.

*History of Travis County and Austin, 1839-1899, Mary Starr Barkley,  Austin History Center.

*Deed Records, Travis County Courthouse.

*The Personal Correspondence of Sam Houston, Vol. 1: 1839-1845.
 

Compiled by: Larry Butler and Carol Ann Sayle
3414 Lyons Road
Austin, TX 78702-3727
512-926-4650
info@boggycreekfarm.com